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SEOUL (Reuters) - The world's biggest TV makers, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and LG Electronics Inc, are turning to quantum dot technology for their next-generation TVs as it could still be years before OLED is affordable for the mass market.
The nascent technology involves incorporating a film of tiny light-emitting crystals into regular liquid crystal displays (LCD). The manufacturing process is relatively straightforward and offers improved picture quality at much cheaper cost than using organic light-emitting diodes (OLED).
The resulting lower prices could help the technology catch on far quicker. One industry analyst estimated a 55-inch quantum dot TV could be priced 30 to 35 percent more than a current LCD TV, while an OLED TV could be 5 times more expensive. LG recently launched a 65-inch ultra-high definition OLED TV for 12 million won ($11,350) in its home market of South Korea.
The only real challenge is securing enough quantum dot material from the small pool of suppliers, including Quantum Materials Corp and Nanoco Group PLC.
Nanoco last month said a South Korean plant being built by partner Dow Chemical Co will start quantum dot production in the first half of 2015. Analysts believe the output is destined for a local client.
On Wednesday, LG, the world's No.2 TV maker after domestic rival Samsung, said it plans to make quantum dot TVs in addition to OLED TVs. Analysts regarded that a tacit acknowledgement that OLED needs more time for prices to come down before becoming the new standard.
"We are pursuing a dual-track strategy with quantum dot and OLED," LG Chief Financial Officer Jung Do-hyun told analysts after the company reported earnings. OLED is the fundamentally superior product, he said.
Samsung Vice President Simon Sung told analysts on Thursday that quantum dot is among many technologies under consideration.
"How a technology will match with market conditions, when a technology will emerge as the main market segment is the most critical consideration," Sung said. "We'll respond aggressively after identifying such a market opportunity."
At present, Japan's Sony Corp is the only major electronics manufacturer selling quantum dot TVs. Last month, China's TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings Ltd unveiled a quantum dot TV at the IFA tech expo in Berlin.
LG and affiliate LG Display Co Ltd are the biggest champions of OLED TVs, in contrast to Samsung which has not released a model this year. Analysts say the lack of Samsung support could limit OLED growth prospects and keep prices high.
"In theory, OLED should become cheaper than LCD once production yields get better because OLED doesn't need a backlight, but at this point both the scale and production yield remain low," said CIMB analyst Lee Do-hoon.
"LG needs a product in the interim, and they seem to be saying they'll look at market conditions and respond with quantum dot," Lee said.
Samsung could be more aggressive than LG in pushing quantum dot as Korea's No.1 consumer electronics maker appears less committed to a particular technology, analysts said. LG, on the other hand, risks undermining its OLED push.
"If LG focuses on quantum dot, it'd be basically the same as signaling that it will be difficult for OLED to go mainstream in the near term," said CIMB's Lee.
Researcher DisplaySearch forecasts 1.95 million quantum dot TV shipments next year, for just 0.8 percent of the market, growing to 25.5 million by 2020. IHS Technology sees OLED TV shipments at 7.8 million units by 2019 from 600,000 in 2015.
Some analysts question how successful quantum dot TVs will be given the availability of affordable LCD TVs, including ultra-high definition sets that they say offer enough bang for the buck.
"The main lineup for TVs is still LCD TV, so I don't know how much quantum dot matters," said HMC Investment analyst Greg Roh. "I don't think it would signify anything more than bolstering the product lineup."
Additional reporting by Sohee Kim and Kahyun Yang; Editing by Tony Munroe and Christopher Cushing